If there is no fruit, why care for the vineyard?

Yesterday, I noted how Jesus echoed the Prophet Isaiah as regards the insufficiency of the temple cult when one is murderous/hateful toward one’s fellow covenant people (see here). Today, I want to point out Jesus’ reliance on Isaiah, once again. This time Jesus slightly adjust a parable told by Isaiah to fit his own context.

In 5.1-7 Isaiah rebukes Judah for failing to maintain their covenant obligations with YHWH. As the singing oracle of YHWH he states this:

I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?

Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled.  I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”

The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. (NIV)

We notice here that Isaiah says Judah is like a field that simply will not become what she was intended. Like a lot of land protected to be a fruitful vineyard that does not produce, so Judah was a protected people that did not become what YHWH sought.

Jesus follows a similar outline, yet notice an important shift as it is told in Mt. 21.33-46. The vineyard is not under judgment. Now it is the ones who are asked to care for the vineyard by the Master (YHWH). They are the focus of God’s wrath:

“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet. (NIV)

In this parable Jesus does not condemn Israel. Jesus condemns the leaders who have led them astray. It seems that the servants are prophet-types and the son is likely Jesus himself, the Messiah. We see this frames Jesus’ mission. He intentionally departs from Isaiah to emphasize something different. He is focusing his warning on the leaders which is exactly what the chief priest and the Pharisees see it as aimed at them. It is!

My question regarding Mt. 21.33-46 is who did Jesus understand to be the recipients of the kingdom taken from the Pharisees? He is intentional about saying it is the leaders who are the primary focus of God’s wrath (at least in this context the people of Israel are not the first people to be blamed), who did Jesus think would take their place? Thoughts?